Jaime Martinez and Cesar Chavez became good friends, union allies and fellow activists starting in the 1970s. After the civil rights and farm labor icon died in 1993, Jaime made it his mission to educate people in his native San Antonio, Texas about Cesar’s life and legacy. The annual Cesar Chavez march Jaime organized and led over 21 years attracts many thousands of people. A 13-year campaign led by Jaime overcame much resistance to change the name of Durango Street to Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard in 2011. The renaming did more than honor Cesar; it also became a source of pride for many Hispanics in San Antonio. Dedicated community and labor activist Jaime Martinez, 70, passed away on Sunday, July 16.
“Cesar Chavez often distinguished between people who are of service and those who are true servants,” notes Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez and United Farm Workers President Arturo S. Rodriguez in a joint letter of tribute to Jaime. “Many decent men and women commit daily acts of charity or kindness in their everyday lives,” the pair continues. “But only a relative few totally dedicate their lives on behalf of the most needy in the community. In that sense, Jaime Martinez was a true servant.”
Jaime P. Martinez was born on August 28, 1946 in San Antonio and grew up in the city’s Westside barrio. After graduating from Lanier High School in 1964, Jaime worked in a factory where he quickly became active with International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) Local 780. He was elected chief steward at his plant in 1973. His life changed when he was hired a few years later over 300 other applicants as an IUE international representative.
Jaime organized workers for the IUE in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and New Jersey. He returned to San Antonio in 1977 to serve as organizing director for IUE District 11, which took him across Arkansas and Ohio as well as Texas. Paul Chavez recalls accompanying his father to San Antonio in the ‘80s to help Jaime organize workers at a local plant.
With help from Cesar Chavez among others, Jaime was elected in 1990 as secretary-treasurer of the IUE International Union, the first Hispanic to serve on its executive board since it was chartered in 1955. Jaime frequently travelled as he represented union members in the 23 states west of the Mississippi. He also lobbied in Washington, D.C.
From the time he retired from the union in 2000 until his passing, Jaime was passionately dedicated to championing grass roots organizing, especially in West San Antonio on issues such as immigration reform. He saw Republican attacks on immigrants in places such as Texas, Arizona and California as attacks on the entire Hispanic community.
Cesar Chavez spent much time with Jaime when he came to San Antonio beginning in the ‘70s. Jaime would take his sons with him to the Rio Grande Valley to be with Cesar and to help the UFW organize farm workers.
When Jaime returned from Cesar’s funeral services in California in 1993, he told his family, “We have to do something for Cesar here in San Antonio.” With support from Paul Chavez and Arturo Rodriguez, in 1996 Jaime founded and for 21 years led the annual Cesar Chavez March for Justice in downtown San Antonio. Despite initial resistance from some officials, Jaime saw the march as a way to help educate the community about Cesar’s life and values, often visiting schools and community groups. The first march drew a few hundred participants. Recent years have seen it average 10,000 to 15,000 marchers—and as many as 25,000 people one year. The yearly event is now co-sponsored by the city of San Antonio.
Jaime founded the non-profit Cesar E. Chavez Legacy and Educational Foundation in 2004. It sponsors three signature events: the annual march on the last Saturday in March; Thanksgiving in the Barrio, providing turkeys and all the trimmings to poor families on the Westside; and Christmas in the Barrio, supplying children with toys. In-between, Jaime relentlessly organized and lobbied around immigration.
Leading an intensive effort, Jaime mounted a successful drive in 1998 that renamed the entire length of Durango Street, a main artery crisscrossing the city, including downtown, Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard. It took 13 years of difficult organizing—including petition gathering, fundraising and lobbying the mayor and City Council—to finally get the name changed in 2011.
The renaming was seen as recognition by the city not only of Cesar Chavez but also of the important historic and contemporary contributions of Hispanics to San Antonio. Hispanics across the city took genuine pride in the renaming of the street.
Jaime Martinez passed away on July 16. Surviving Jaime are his wife, Marie Guadalupe Martinez; his children Ernest (and Ernest’s wife Joyce), Christopher and Sarah; and his grandchildren Erika, Kayla, Amanda and Sophia.
A memorial service for the community is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 19 at Porter Loring Mortuary, 2102 North Loop 1604, San Antonio, TX 78232. Jaime will be honored by a procession through the Westside neighborhood where he was raised, including on a street renamed by the city Jamie P. Martinez Place, at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 20. People will gather at 1523 South Cibolo Street, San Antonio, TX 78207. Funeral services on Thursday are private.